Going low-tech lightens the load

Preview: `Enterprise' boldly goes into Trek territory - to explore the years leading up to the original series. Along the way, it tries to recapture a sense of fun and wonder

Fall Tv 2001

September 26, 2001|By John Coffren | John Coffren,SUN STAFF

Writer/producer Brannon Braga knows it may sound a little geeky when he says he's never left the 24th century. He spent the past 11 years cranking out nearly 100 episodes for two Star Trek spinoffs - Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) - set in that far-flung future.

When executive producer Rick Berman approached him about creating a new Star Trek series 2 1/2 years ago, he wanted to recapture the sense of exploration, wonder and fun of creator Gene Roddenberry's original series.

Berman and Braga went back to the future and dropped the 35-year-old moniker in favor of a one-word title that evokes all things Trek: Enterprise. The fifth series is set in the 22nd century, 150 years before the original, when the Alpha Quadrant, our corner of the Milky Way galaxy, was an unexplored wilderness.

Its two-hour premiere, "Broken Bow," airs tonight at 8 on UPN.

Braga, 36 and speaking on the telephone from his office at Paramount in Hollywood, said of the previous two series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) and Voyager, "We had moved away from the essence of Star Trek. The formalized speech of characters on those shows prevented natural responses and a sense of fun and humor associated with normal speech."

He added that advanced technology like ship's sensors that could detect an intruder immediately deflated potentially suspenseful situations.

"It's very liberating for the writers not to have every piece of technology at their fingertips," he said. "And a crew that's not very sure-footed and makes mistakes."

Scott Bakula leads this crew as Capt. Jonathan Archer, characterized by Braga as more down-to-earth than previous captains. But like Kirk, who had Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy as both friends and foils, Archer is surrounded by Sub-Commander T'Pol, a female Vulcan (Jolene Blalock), and Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III (Connor Trinneer), a good-old-boy engineer.

Enterprise fits snugly in the Star Trek universe between events depicted in the motion picture Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and the original series (1966-1969) and charts humanity's progress.

"How did humanity get from post-apocalyptic mess to the time of Kirk is totally unexplored," Braga said. "How did they get rid of the last vestiges of petty emotions that plagued them?"

When it comes to designing the near future, Braga admits that certain liberties had to be taken. Our perception of Kirk's era, the 23rd century, may be stuck in the 1960s, but Enterprise's sets aren't.

"We couldn't have orange and purple sets with big knobs and people dressed in velour," he said. However, some small nods were made to the original series in the shape of the bridge, the transporter controls and a viewer at T'Pol's science station that closely resembles Mr. Spock's.

Despite the general low-tech, retro feel, the Enterprise herself had to be "the coolest ship of them all," Braga said.

He describes the NX-01 as a combination nuclear submarine and space shuttle with cramped quarters and living space at a premium. Her defenses include missiles and "good-old-fashioned torpedoes."

Even though the latest series is a prequel, there is a sequel element as well. Fans not only get to see Star Trek's past but, glimpses of its future.

"We have villains called Suliban taking orders from the distant future," Braga said. "They're fighting a Temporal Cold War. We will eventually reveal somebody trying to manipulate events from hundreds of years in the future."

Enterprise

When: tonight at 8

Where: UPN

In brief: Where no Star Trek series has gone ... for a while.

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